Talented junior class could lead Broncos to second state title in three years
Two seasons ago a talented, young group of freshmen posed for photos with friends, parents and coaches at Firelake Fields in Shawnee.
Jayden Chestnut had just recorded the final out of her high school career, inducing a fly-ball to seal Mustang’s second state championship in school history. Chestnut and company had worked four years for a title. The freshmen, who did have a tremendous impact, left the field having, in a sense, never tasted defeat. They were 1-for-1 in state championship opportunities.
Now those photos have been archived, stored away in albums – mostly online, but maybe a few actual hard-covered photo albums – with still room left for more. And now those freshmen are juniors, being looked upon as leaders as coach Jamie Roberts enters her second year with zero – yes, count them – zero seniors on the roster.
A dilemma for most teams in Class 6A, but with as much experience and talent as Mustang’s junior class has, the team’s goal isn’t changing anytime soon.
“I’ve never coached a team without seniors,” Roberts admitted. “But these juniors have been the nucleus of the team now for two years. They definitely have the talent to do it. I don’t know if they expect to win, but that’s the mentality that we’re trying to work towards and I think they are picking that up. We’re trying to put in their minds that they can be the best team out there.”
Karis Clark, Zoe Jones, Audrie Morrison, Zion Archer and Kaitlyn Thomas all have two years of varsity experience as well as pitcher Kylie Dodson who backed up Chestnut during her freshman season and took full reigns as the team’s starter last year. Jones, a Texas Tech-commit, has been a full-time starter for two seasons as well as Clark, Thomas and Morrison.
Roberts sees these players as seniors and knows the advantages of still having two years left with them rather than just one.
“Sometimes you get seniors that are great all around and sometimes you get seniors that get senior-itis and worry about other things like prom and graduating,” she said. “There won’t be any of that this year. It really hasn’t been any different, but we are still trying to find out who the leaders are and who’s going to step up vocally.”
Mustang’s lineup and defense should be versatile. They have speed, power and the ability to pick it in the field. Plus bench players who can fill in on a day-to-day basis.
Sophomore MacKenzie Donihoo returns as the team’s starting shortstop and will likely leadoff. She was named Class 6A District 2 Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman after leading the team with a .456 batting-average. She will likely be followed by Jones (third base), Morrison (outfield), Dodson (pitcher) and Clark (catcher). Thomas will switch in and out with Archer in the outfield, batting behind the middle of the lineup followed by an interchangeable group led by Kayla Mantooth (outfield), Olivia Roberts (first base), Anna Hammer (second base) and Mallory McCoy (utility).
Dodson returns to the circle after garnishing Class 6A-2 All-District honors last year, going 19-6 with a 1.08 ERA and 136 strikeouts. She will carry an even heavier load without All-State member Brooklyn Sparkman as a backup. Roberts and Mantooth will likely fill in to give Dodson needed days off throughout the season, but [Jamie] Roberts knows her starter is ready to take the next step.
“I’m seeing a lot of maturity out of Kylie (Dodson),” she said. “She’s coming off a lot of great experience from last year and this summer. Everybody is confident with her out there and I think she has a little bit of a bad taste in her mouth after the way things ended last year in the playoffs. I think she wants to get that second ring more than anybody. Only with her in the circle closing it out this time.”
Southmoore enters the year as the favorite in Class 6A with a strong core of seniors. Choctaw enters as the defending champion, but lost its primary starting pitcher. That’s where Mustang falls in line, however, Roberts and the Broncos aren’t focused on other teams. Just on what they do best.
“We’re just trying to focus on us and what we can do,” she said. “It’s not about who is in the other dugout. If we do what we do, we control our own destiny. And that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”